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Regulation of Synthetic Biology

BioBricks, Biopunks and Bioentrepreneurs

Alison McLennan

This book explores the interplay between regulation and emerging technologies in the context of synthetic biology, a developing field that promises great benefits, and has already yielded fuels and medicines made with designer micro-organisms. For all its promise, however, it also poses various risks. Investigating the distinctiveness of synthetic biology and the regulatory issues that arise, Alison McLennan questions whether synthetic biology can be regulated within existing structures or whether new mechanisms are needed.
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Chapter 3: Science meets politics, activists and governance: evaluating key positions in synthetic biology debates

Alison McLennan


Chapter 3 evaluates key policy positions in the debate over regulation of synthetic biology. These are represented by leading scientists, J Craig Venter and Drew Endy, sociologists, Joy Y Zhang, Claire Marris and Nikolas Rose, and the civil society organisation, ETC Group. Venter has promoted the benefits of synthetic biology and encouraged government investment and lighter regulation. This approach has limitations in terms of public and government involvement and consideration of risks and ethical concerns. Endy has sought to develop the new field of engineering of biology and create a research community underpinned by positive communal norms. While these have positive influence, this self-regulatory strategy alone is insufficient as a regulatory approach to synthetic biology. The ETC Group emphasises the risks of synthetic biology and has argued that in the absence of adequate oversight, there should be a moratorium. This is not appropriate as a regulatory strategy for synthetic biology.

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